When Urinary Tract Infections Turn Deadly

October 18, 2021

A urinary tract infection, like any infection, can progress into deadly sepsis. Do you know when to seek emergency care?   

You might be hearing the words “sepsis” and “urinary tract infection” a lot right now, given former President Bill Clinton’s recent bout with both. Sepsis, the body’s overwhelming and life-threatening response to infection, affects an estimated 49 million people worldwide each year, so Clinton is not alone in his battle with this potentially deadly condition.  

A urinary tract infection, commonly referred to as a UTI, is an infection of the urinary tract. The tract starts at your kidneys and continues through the ureters, the urinary bladder, and the urethra. Most often, UTIs can be managed effectively when they are identified and treated quickly. An untreated UTI may spread to the kidney and can also cause sepsis, as is the case with the former President.  

Women are more likely than men to develop UTIs, however, people with external genitals are still at risk of UTIs, though they might not be as aware of this risk or familiar with the symptoms that would lead them to seek care.  

Typically, a UTI can be treated with an antibiotic in just a few days. If the UTI is not recognized and treated, or if antibiotics are not effective, as can be the case if it is an antibiotic resistant bacteria, sepsis can develop.  

Sepsis has taken on a few misnomers in the press, such as “a blood infection,” but it is the body’s response to an infection, not an infection itself. Patients are diagnosed with sepsis when they develop a set of signs and symptoms related to sepsis. Sepsis is not diagnosed based on an infection itself. Sepsis Alliance, the nation’s first and leading sepsis organization, launched the Sepsis: It’s About TIME™ initiative to raise awareness of sepsis and the urgent need to seek treatment when symptoms are recognized.   

Signs and Symptoms of Sepsis:  

  • – Temperature: higher or lower than normal 
  • – Infection: may have signs and symptoms of an infection 
  • – Mental decline: confused, sleepy, difficult to rouse 
  • – Extremely Ill: severe pain, discomfort, shortness of breath  

More than 1.7 million people in the U.S. are diagnosed with sepsis each year and 270,000 of those people die. As many as 80% of septic shock patients can be saved with rapid diagnosis and treatment, highlighting the importance of knowing when to seek emergency care for an infection, as Clinton did.   

recent awareness survey conducted on behalf of Sepsis Alliance found that only 65% of American adults recognize the word “sepsis,” and of that, those who identify as white are significantly more likely to be aware of the term “sepsis” (67%) than those who identify as Black (57%). Sepsis Alliance has become increasingly aware of disparities in healthcare based on socioeconomic status, race, ethnicity, and other factors, and has made an organization-wide commitment to equity, diversity, and inclusion (EDI) work, as all people should be provided the tools and education to recognize sepsis and seek care, saving lives and limbs.  

Sepsis Alliance wishes former President Bill Clinton a full and speedy recovery from his sepsis experience. He is only one of the millions that will face sepsis this year. As organizations, individuals, and companies, everyone can help save lives by increasing sepsis awareness, especially amongst the most vulnerable and affected populations. For more information about sepsis, and to read other stories of lives affected by sepsis, visit Sepsis.org 


Helpful Links: 




Sepsis Alliance, the first and leading sepsis organization in the U.S., seeks to save lives and reduce suffering by improving sepsis awareness and care. More than 1.7 million people are diagnosed with sepsis each year in the U.S. with more than 270,000 dying and over 50% of survivors experiencing post-sepsis syndrome and other lingering effects, including amputations. At Sepsis Alliance’s founding in 2003, only 19% of U.S. adults were aware of the term “sepsis.” After over ten years of educational efforts for the general public and healthcare providers through Sepsis.org, Sepsis Alliance Clinical Community, Sepsis Alliance Institute, and Sepsis Alliance Voices, awareness is at 65% with over 30,000 healthcare providers across the country having attended sepsis webinars and courses to elevate their practice and over 28 Sepsis Awareness Month state proclamations. Sepsis Alliance is a 501(c)3 nonprofit and a GuideStar Platinum Rated charity. For more information, please visit www.sepsis.org and connect with Sepsis Alliance onFacebook,Twitter,Instagram, andLinkedInat @SepsisAlliance.